California's prison plan may not happen in time

August 5, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The state of California is facing a deadline to reduce its prison population by tens of thousands, on orders from the U.S. Supreme Court. But now it seems Gov. Jerry Brown plan to shift some of those inmates to local jails cannot happen in time.

The new budget Brown signed in June included a plan called "re-alignment" to shift tens of thousands of inmates to local jails starting October 1. It aims to fulfill orders by a three-judge panel and the U.S. Supreme Court to reduce California's prison population by 34,000 over two years.

Now a new report by the non-partisan Legislative Analyst Office finds the move will fall short.

"We're recommending that the state ask the three-judge panel for more time in order to reduce the prison population because we think in the longer term, the state could get there, just not in two years," Legislative Analyst Office spokesperson Paul Golaszewski said.

But the attorney for inmates says asking for more time is absurd and will fight any move to do so. He has been trying for decades to ease overcrowding so that the state can provide medical care to prisoners that meets Constitutional standards.

Don Specter says 50,000 inmates are within six months of their release date and early release can immediately meet the court-ordered reduction.

"These prisoners were going to get out anyway; it's been proven scientifically that the advancement of their release date by just a few weeks or a month wouldn't have any adverse effect on public safety," Specter said.

The Brown administration's own court filing last month said re-alignment will get them to 32,000, not 34,000 as the courts have asked.

But, the California Corrections Department is re-calculating the numbers and believes early release will not be necessary.

"I'm confident we're going to avoid any kind of federal court ordered prison release," California Corrections Department spokesperson Lee Seale said. "We're doing this safely; we're doing it without freeing inmates and putting them out on the streets."

If the courts don't order early releases, critics say it will happen anyway under re-alignment because they don't believe there is room in the local jails for the transferring state prisoners so the local jails will have to let some of their inmates go.

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